A year ago from now, a gruesome massacre was recorded on the Philippine soil. A National Day of Remembrance was declared to commemorate this event. How would a person feel if one of your family were a victim? Maybe Justice is your best bet to append what had happened. True enough that was their cry.
MANILA, Philippines – It will be a year on Tuesday (Nov. 23) since news of the massacre of 57 civilians in Maguindanao shocked the whole world – news that further catapulted the Philippines high in the impunity index.
But while the nation commemorates the so-called Maguindanao massacre, the families of the victims continue to hope for that elusive justice.
In a press statement, Amnesty International Asia-Pacific Programme Director Sam Zarifi said the trials continue to be characterized by delays.
Of the nearly 200 implicated in the murders, a big percentage remains at large.
Another hitch is the government’s failure to crush private armies that continue to sow fear in the hearts of many, he said.
“How the Philippine government handles this case will demonstrate how serious President Aquino is about reining in private armies and curbing human rights violations,” he said.
“The government has to show that the Philippines has the ability and will to deal fairly but resolutely with a massacre that constituted the worst ever attack on journalists anywhere in the world,” he added.
A look back
On November 23, 57 civilians were brutally killed and their bodies dumped in a mass grave on a hillside above the town of Ampatuan, rightly named after the powerful clan there.
The victims include members of the Mangudadatu clan, who were on their way to file the candidacy of then Buluan Vice-Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu. The latter was to run for the province’s gubernatorial race—one that has solely belonged to the Ampatuan family in the past.
The convoy included journalists.
Immediately, the government under then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo proceeded to rein in on the Ampatuans by imposing martial rule in some parts of Maguindanao.
The multiple murder case is now before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, but not without hitches along the way: initial inhibition of a judge, the death of a possible witness, a ruling that absolved 2 Ampatuans, and a couple more.
Arroyo herself was linked to the case.
Lakmudin Saliao, a former trusted aide of the Ampatuan family, revealed that former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan, Jr. only agreed to surrender his son and namesake to authorities after getting assurances he will be put “under the care” of the then president.
Several of her men were also supposedly bribed to ensure that the family would still be living in fairly good conditions.
The court has since discussed a case management system that both the prosecution and defense teams approved in order to hasten the resolution of the case. Even the Supreme Court has relieved Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes of her many tasks.
Some, however, say that the systems put in place are not enough. Some fear that the case will take years and years.
On Tuesday, a series of mass actions will be done in commemoration of the Maguindanao massacre.
In Manila, different groups will be assembling for a torch parade leading to the Mendiola Bridge for a short program.
Cultural group Ugat Lahi will present a 9-foot effigy called the “Ampatuan Backhoe” featuring the grotesque face of Ampatuan, Jr.
NUJP chairman Nestor Burgos said they are still asking different broadcast stations to air 5 television commercials meant to remind the public of the worst massacre case in the country.
Emotions are expected to run high most especially in Mindanao, where the families of the victims will retrace the doomed route.
These groups want more, however. The government should be at the forefront of the search for justice, they said.
In a separate statement, the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy said “beyond punishing the guilty, PCID also urges government to take effective action to prevent the reoccurrence of such barbaric acts on Philippine soil.”
Amnesty International’s Zafiri added: “If President Aquino is serious about ending the violence associated with private armies, he should revoke Executive Order 546 at once…The fact that private armies continue to operate a year after the Maguindanao massacre is an affront to the victims and an invitation to further disasters.”